Senior Honors Theses
Many students choose to finish their work in philosophy with a capstone experience – in most cases, the taking of a seminar during the senior year. Some students wish to do more intense, original, sustained work in the discipline than even a seminar tends to allow. For these students, a senior honors thesis in philosophy may be appropriate.
Per Tufts' policy, students wishing to write an honors thesis must have appeared on the Dean's List for at least two semesters before their senior year. Transfer students should have appeared on the Dean's List at least once at Tufts.
It is tempting to romanticize the process of writing a long philosophy paper. Many students find that the most difficult part is selecting a topic that is narrow enough to cover and broad enough to sustain their interest and merit a lengthy treatment. For this reason, it is important to talk with your departmental advisor about the possibility of writing a thesis as soon as possible, preferably at the end of your junior year (and no later than the first month of the senior year), to assess whether such a project is the best possible capstone experience for you.
After conferring with the departmental advisor, students who intend to undertake an honors thesis are expected to produce a written proposal and assemble a thesis committee (see information about putting together a committee below).
- The written proposal must be submitted to the department by October 1st of the senior year (or no later than three weeks after the start of the term, for an out-of-synch senior). The proposal should describe in two double spaced pages - roughly 500 words - the motivations for and goals of the project. It should also include a brief preliminary bibliography and the names of the members of the thesis committee.
- The thesis director will submit the proposal for review to the full-time members of the Department of Philosophy for a vote. The department will decide to approve the proposal or deny it or send it back for revision.
- Once the department approves the written proposal, students will then be notified to go forward with the registration.
Assembling a Thesis Committee
Once your proposal is approved, your director will help you assemble a thesis committee. Your committee will consist of at least two people: your chair, who must be a full-time member of the philosophy department (professor, associate professor, assistant professor, or senior lecturer), and a second member, typically another faculty member from the philosophy department. In some cases, your chair may suggest engaging a third reader as well.
Senior Honors Thesis Registration
The senior honors thesis is a year-long course. If your thesis project is approved, you will receive an email with the following instructions:
- Complete and submit a "Senior Honors Thesis Form" (available at the Student Services Desk in Dowling Hall.) The form must be completed (within a week of receiving notification of project approval?)
- Complete a Course Schedule Modification Form to register for Philosophy 093 (fall semester) and Philosophy 094 (spring semester). You must verify your course registration on SIS. A thesis project spans two semesters and counts for two credits. A student who elects to undertake a two-semester thesis project will receive both credits in the second semester and should ensure that there is no course overload for that semester.
Students are expected to hand in final versions of their thesis at least two weeks before their defense date. The defense usually takes place during the spring semester reading period and finals and must be completed before grades are due. Dates may be negotiated according to the schedules of the committee members.
A student should notify the Philosophy Department staff of the date and time agreed upon with their thesis committee for his/her oral defense so a room can be reserved.
Students who write a thesis receive two grades. You will receive an academic grade ('A,' 'B,' etc.) for the thesis course. This grade is the same for both semesters of the course and will be retroactively filled in for the first one (i.e., Philosophy 93). The thesis itself is also given an honor grade: summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude, or no distinction. If you complete a thesis but do not receive thesis honors, you will still receive full course credit for the work. (See the "Thesis Honors Program" description from the Tufts Bulletin).
Special Project or Independent Study
Students who do not choose to undertake a senior honors thesis but would like to pursue independent research for credit may approach a member for consent in advising or leading an Independent Study – Philosophy 193 (fall) or Philosophy 194 (spring). As a rule, the philosophy department discourages Independent Studies. Faculty members will be disinclined to supervise an independent study proposed by a student who simply did not get a satisfactory thesis proposal together in a timely manner.
Meeting with Your Committee
You and the chair of your committee will discuss goals and expectations at the beginning of the project. Arrangements vary, but some advisors, for example, wish to meet students on a weekly or biweekly basis, or whenever a student has produced some writing. Students tend to meet with other members of their committees once or twice per term, or on an as-needed basis. In any event, you should keep your readers apprised of your progress and of important dates and meetings.
The length of a thesis depends to a great degree on its topic. However, in most cases a philosophy thesis will require no more than 50 pages, and often 35 or so will do. Most students will aim to produce some genuinely useful, formal writing by the end of the first semester of the process.
Further Information and Writing Support
Students are highly encouraged to visit the following links for extensive support in planning and writing their senior honors thesis:
- Academic Resource Center
- Tisch Library: 8-week mini-course Research 4 Success
- Guidelines for Writing a Senior Honors Thesis in Philosophy